Rolfs works for Brey, Irish hoops

South Bend Tribune

Some fast thinking one summer’s night about two years ago helped push forward plans of a dedicated stand-alone practice facility for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

A saturated campus schedule during what should have been a slow time left the Irish no place to practice one night during summer school. A volleyball camp had taken over Purcell Pavilion and absorbed all of its auxiliary gym space. That left coach Mike Brey and his players nowhere to go for their two-hour a week offseason workout as allowed by the NCAA.

The Irish eventually decided to walk from the arena across Moose Krause Circle to the 71,100-square foot Rolfs Sports Recreation Center.

The building is home to three regulation-size basketball courts. It has a weight room, locker rooms and offices. It has a running track that encircles the building’s top floor. Brey watched the Irish spread out to loosen up at the available baskets and immediately felt at home. He looked at deputy athletic director/men’s basketball administrator Jim Fraleigh with more of a comment than a question.

“I turned to Jim and said, ‘How about this being our practice facility,” Brey recalled Wednesday morning.

“That’s an interesting idea,” Fraleigh responded.

One that eventually will become reality following Wednesday’s release of details surrounding Notre Dame’s $400 million Campus Crossroads project. The plan centers on three building additions to Notre Dame Stadium. Included in the design is a student center attached to the stadium’s west side. That will allow Rolfs Center, which opened in 1998, to become something the Irish basketball programs have lacked and needed for years – a stand-alone practice facility.

As fund-raising continues, the Campus Crossroads project has no specific start date. It’s expected to take 33 months to complete. That means the move to the much-needed hoops practice facility is three to five years away.

“This isn’t going to happen soon (but) there’s a plan in place,” Brey said. “It’s exciting.”

For too long of a time, being a member of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team has long required a good pair of shoes.

Walking shoes.

Meetings with the coaching staff require the Irish to turn left out of their Purcell Pavilion locker room, walk the Austin Carr Concourse, make a right turn, then a left, then another right before reaching the offices located in the far northwestern corner of the building.

Film sessions require another trek from the locker room to the auditorium next to the basketball offices. The antiquated weight room is located in the far corner of the Joyce Center’s north dome. Even a trip to the training room to get taped before practice or a dip in the ice bath after workouts means a brisk walk up through the cold and drafty arena receiving area.

There are no plans as to how to convert Rolfs into a basketball-only facility. There’s also a chance the current basketball offices will remain in their current spot – on the ground floor in the corner of the Joyce Center. But everything else the Irish need – really need – will be in one central location.

No more walking to and fro to get an afternoon’s work done.

“You’ve got everything you need over there,” Brey said. “There’s plenty of space.”

Practicing in The Pit – the team’s basement facility – offers the basketball coaches a chance to teach in private, but it also has its own logistical problems. Battling for loose balls along either baseline threatens players with a head-first fall with a padded wall. The space between one baseline and back wall is so small that the Irish cannot practice any out-of-bounds under situations on that end of the floor. If a ball goes out of bounds during a scrimmage, they simply run a sideline-out-of-bounds situation.

When the Irish want to shoot free throws – usually pairing up by twos - team managers must lower baskets on both sides near center court to allow everyone to shoot simultaneously. Once free throws are shot, practice is sometimes delayed a few minutes while the side baskets are raised.

“We’ve really out-grown the Pit,” Brey said.

Behind the scenes of the renovation of Purcell Pavilion, which cost $32 million and was completed in 2009, very little has changed for the Irish basketball program other than a fresh coat of paint and fancy photos here and there. The locker room/lounge area was expanded/created prior to the 1999-2000 season.

The same year Purcell Pavilion was dedicated, fellow Atlantic Coast Conference colleague Syracuse opened its 54,000-square foot basketball-only practice facility. The Carmelo K. Anthony Center is named for the former Orange standout who led the school to the 2003 national championship and donated the largest individual gift for the $19 million building.

Brey was part of a feasibility study group that included women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw and senior deputy athletic director Missy Conboy and athletic director Jack Swarbrick that traveled to three college campuses last fall – Georgia, Kentucky and South Florida – to study stand-alone practice facilities. There long had been talk that a facility could be built in the back parking lot of Purcell Pavilion, sort of wedged between the arena and the Rolfs Aquatics Center. But the more the group researched their needs and wants, the more it made little sense to construct yet another structure in a cramped area of campus that has seen its share of recent growth.

“It would be very hard to do that,” Brey said. “Jack’s been really aggressive with this. I give him a lot of credit.”

When Notre Dame moved a preseason practice off campus last fall to South Bend’s Kroc Center, Brey embraced the idea of working out at the 110,000-square foot building on the city’s near-west side because he said it finally gave him a practice facility.

He was joking. Sort of.

“We need that (facility), especially in this league,” Brey said. “Everybody else in the ACC has those types of resources.”

Having a stand-alone practice facility can help in recruiting, but Brey wants one more for who’s on the roster when it’s done, than who might eventually want to sign up.

“It’s most important for the development of your current guys to get in there at any time and work on your game,” he said. “It’s really needed.”

And coming. Eventually.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey reacts to the action on the floor during men's NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER